Seeing Cinema in a New Light: Criticism, Essays and Observations about Classic Cinema

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Exposing the Lies of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

In 1967, there was intense buzz about a film that Americans had never seen before. The reason? The movie had dared to break almost every taboo of the Hays Code (aka The Production Code). It featured: partial nudity! Phallic references! Incompetent law enforcement! Sexy, cool murderers! Evil anti-heroes! And the violence–oh, the violence!

Keep in mind that the movie also became a sensation for several other reasons. For one, it starred two of what would become the hottest sex icons of the 1960s and 1970s, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. It introduced several other actors who would become stars in their own right–Gene Hackman, Gene Wilder and Estelle Parsons. It put a finger on the pulse of a folk music renaissance, which was at its peak with the likes of Bob Dylan; Simon and Garfunkel; Peter, Paul and Mary; and The Smothers Brothers.

However, what really blew audiences away was that it couldn’t have fulfilled the requirements of Counterculture Chic hunger more keenly. At the time, rebelliousness was all the rage, and the movie was just what the doctor ordered. Not only did it glorify crime and glamorize murder and mayhem, it mocked the concept of law and order–catnip to a younger generation hellbent on rebelling against rules.

Yet no matter how well it scratched the itch of 20-somethings back in the 1960s or embodied the zeitgeist, the fact remains that Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde was a despicable movie that should’ve never seen the light of day, because it used artistic license to not only glamorize criminals, but make a mockery of the people who suffered at the hands of them, as well as tarnish the reputations of the heroes who risked their lives to stop them.

In light of how this pile of nihilistic manure continues to live on today as a “masterpiece”, “must see viewing” or the movie that “changed everything,” I will not only expose all that was factually wrong about the movie, but show how what often gets excused as “artistic license” was cynical, manipulative nonsense in service of evil, for lack of a better word. That is to say, rather than stretch the truth for the sake of making the story of Bonnie and Clyde interesting, the movie deliberately left out inconvenient truths or manufactured stuff out of thin air in order to sell its sociopathic leads as cool, sexy and hip anti-establishment heroes. Let us see how:

Bonnie and Clyde, a Brief Recap

In Arthur Penn’s movie, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are portrayed as an incredibly attractive, charismatic couple who look like what people in the 1960s referred to as “The Beautiful People.” Bonnie is a Southern-fried take on the sexy Swedish Blonde It Girl that was taking the Swinging Sixties by storm in movies, the fashion industry and cheesecake magazines. Clyde Barrow is a charismatic, handsome-as-fuck WASP with bright teeth, a charming smile and chiseled features reminiscent of the Kennedy clan.

When the movie opens, Bonnie is in her bedroom daydreaming in the nude, bored out of her skull, when she suddenly spots Clyde trying to steal her mother’s car. After some charming banter, it’s kismet, and the pair embark on a life of crime. Soon, they recruit a dopey kid as a getaway driver, C.W. Moss, and are later joined by Clyde’s brother Buck and his histrionic wife, Blanche.

Throughout the rest of the movie, we watch this tightknit quintet of happy-go-lucky country bumpkins rob their way across America’s Heartland, backed by charming bluegrass music and prairie landscapes. They become folk heroes as bumbling and cowardly law enforcement officials fail to capture them multiple times. However, their luck runs out when a run-in with the police kills Buck; Blanche is captured; and C.W. Moss’s father helps law enforcement ambush Bonnie and Clyde.

The movie ends in a hail of bullets and blood spurts. When the credits roll, it’s clear: Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were one part Romeo and Juliet, one part Robin Hood and his Merry Men; cool and sexy as hell; and just a couple of sweet kids who never really meant to kill anybody but unfortunately did, through no fault of their own. But, more importantly, they had love, one so strong that they were willing to die for each other.

How romantic. How sweet. How inspiring. Now, here is the stark reality of who and what Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow and the rest of the Barrow Gang were.

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  1. Scott Lueck

    Wow, you touched on everything I dislike about this movie. Great article! The only way I can come close to enjoying this movie is to pretend I’m watching a fictional film whose lead characters happen to be named Bonnie and Clyde.

    The only thing I wonder is how much of the blame can be placed on Warren Beatty himself. He was the producer and the star, and from what I’ve read he had just about influence on the tone of the picture as Arthur Penn. A moot point, possibly, but worth mentioning…

    • Comment by post author

      In researching this article, I do believe you’re correct about the extent of his influence. I remember reading that the real life Blanche Barrow and some other people were either approached by him personally or were made to understand that he was the one who was behind the entire project.

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